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Rangers look to continue recent surge in Buffalo

by Dave Lozo
RANGERS (36-32-10) at SABRES (43-25-10)

Last 10: New York 6-3-1; Buffalo 7-3-0

Season series:
This is the fourth and final meeting. The Sabres have won two of three, including the two most-recent matchups. 

Big story: The Sabres can clinch the Northeast Division with a win and perhaps even jump ahead of New Jersey for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference depending on what the Devils do in Atlanta on Tuesday. The Rangers enter the night with a chance to take over the No. 8 spot in the East, but with the Flyers and Thrashers also playing Tuesday, New York will just look to focus on its business.

Team Scope:

Rangers: It's amazing how many times this team has been left for dead, only to show signs of life. Since losing to the Bruins two weeks ago, they've ripped off a 4-0-1 streak that has them on the cusp of getting back into eighth place.

And the only reason the Rangers are still alive is because of their stellar 20-15-4 road  record.

"We've been a good road team all year long," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We wouldn't be in this situation if we handled ourselves a little bit better at home. We can't look back. … We need to look ahead and stay consistent no matter where we're at right now."

Entering the final week, Buffalo has a chance at clinching the No. 2 spot in the East -- which would mean, in theory, avoiding the Washington Capitals until the conference finals.

But back-to-back losses, 4-2 in Toronto on Thursday and 3-1 in Montreal on Saturday, have put a crimp in those plans.

"It's not just the No. 2 seed, I think it's trying to get better going into the playoffs," left winger Paul Gaustad said. "That's our No. 1 goal, trying to improve every game going into the playoffs. Right now, I think we've taken two steps back and we've got to get back on track."

Who's hot:
Someone on the Rangers has 3 goals in 3 games, and it's not Marian Gaborik. It's defenseman Marc Staal, who now has 8 on the year thanks to his recent scoring burst. … Sabres center Derek Roy has been on a tear, racking up 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 5 games.

Injury report:
For the Rangers, forward Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery are still considered day-to-day. … Forwards Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly did not practice Monday, and coach Lindy Ruff doesn't expect them back until later in the week. Defenseman Craig Rivet left practice early due to an illness and his status is unknown.

Stat pack:
The Sabres' penalty-killing is 17-for-17 over their past five games. … The Rangers' penalty-killing is 21-for-22 over their past seven games. … The Sabres have missed the playoffs just 11 times in their 40-season history. The Rangers are in danger of missing the playoffs for the eighth time in the last 12 seasons.

Puck drop:
"We should know what it takes to get it done. The games are going to be tighter now. Teams are playing harder, they're hungrier, they're more desperate. Just because we've clinched a playoff spot doesn't mean we can ease into the playoffs. You never want to back into the playoffs. You want to be playing the best you can."  -- Buffalo's Mike Grier

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